Bosses at Bat
Tagging up this week: John R. “Rick” MacArthur, David Remnick, Emily Stokes, Lake Micah, Ariel Schulman, Krithika Varagur, Charlie Lee, Elizabeth Bryant, Sophie Haigney, Matt Lynch, Hailey Gates, Tim Rohan, Natalie Meade, and many more…
Some weeks softball is the biggest media event in town. This was such a week: Three games between six publications with rivalries both well-worn and brand new unfolded almost simultaneously on Tuesday evening in Central Park, and the concentrated competition lured certain player-managers to the fields for the first time this year.
A fluff of white hair stood out in the middle of a softball field on Central Park’s North Meadow. It was the most packed evening of non-league New York media softball so far, and Harper’s president and publisher John R. “Rick” MacArthur wasn’t going to miss it. “I used to play a lot in the ’90s and the aughts. There was a very competitive Central Park co-ed publishing league, and I played for Houghton Mifflin and Little, Brown. The greatest moment of my softball career was when I beat Putnam for the championship,” he said. “Do any of these imprints exist anymore?” His opponents, The Drift, playing their first season this year, had certainly not been a competitor in his heyday. Despite the sounds of Steely Dan slithering from their dugout, many of The Drift players hadn’t yet been born when MacArthur began his softball career.
Reactions to the publisher’s presence varied, though most seemed at least somewhat amused. “We have a capable leader,” noted Harper’s assistant editor Lake Micah. “I’d never met him before. I didn’t even know it was Rick,” said Harper’s contributor Ian MacDougall. “Glad I didn’t say anything off color.” Not everybody was pleased to see the publisher. Veteran Paris Review pitcher Joshua Pashman, who The Drift borrowed, used memories of the way MacArthur dealt with his magazine’s union leadership as competitive inspiration. “When I was pitching for The Drift, every time Rick MacArthur came up, I was like this is for Ben Metcalf who you fired,” he said.
MacArthur wasn’t the only controversial presence on the field. A professional umpire was on hand to measure regulation lengths for the base paths, though nobody had brought any bases. “You know Heschel’s God in Search of Man? This is like Umpire in Search of Ballgame. Look at him, no one asked him to be here,” said Harper’s contributor Sam Sussman. “I admire it. Umpiring baseball games was my high school job, so I’ve got a lot of respect for what he’s doing.” The ump’s hustle wasn’t entirely clear to everyone. “Who was that guy who was measuring the bases?” wondered Drift team captain Krithika Varagur after the game. MacArthur had his suspicions earlier. “Do we have an ump?” he asked. “Umpire for money,” the prospector replied. “We don’t have any money,” MacArthur told him. Apparently, Harper’s softball budget had already been spent. “I told Charlie to buy new balls. Did you buy new balls, Charlie?” MacArthur asked assistant editor and team manager Charlie Lee. “I gave him 25 bucks.” Lee put MacArthur in as pitcher, and the publisher had an energetic showing, diving for a ball twice, getting plenty of sand on his sweatpants, and personally tagging out former Harper’s intern and current GQ fact checker Matt Browne who came out to play for The Drift. “It’s an honor for Matt,” said Drift co-founder Rebecca Panovka.
MacArthur’s turn on the mound meant that regular Harper’s pitcher Michael Ames had time to reflect on his time covering oddball sports in Ketchum, Idaho, at the start of his career. “Skijoring is a cowboy sport from Scandinavia, but it’s big in the American West. You put a rope behind a horse — it’s like waterskiing, but with a horse and in the winter,” he explained. “The skier holds the rope, it’s just a cattle rope, but they get going. They go off jumps and they have to catch rings. It’s dangerous and it’s amazing. It could easily be an Olympic sport. It should be — if the IOC wasn’t totally corrupt.”
Allegations of corruption soon became less abstract as a vociferous dispute erupted between the two teams. Harper’s had counted a run after one player ran home, but The Drift contended that another player had been tagged out in the field before that runner reached home plate. When the two teams huddled to argue it out, The Drift stuck to their guns, adding they’d given up a run in a previous inning in similar circumstances, so either way, they claimed they should have the disputed point.
“Do they need baseball explained to them?” recently promoted Harper’s senior editor Elizabeth Bryant asked. “They got mad before we did,” said a player for The Drift. MacArthur quietly ducked out from the maelstrom and mounted his bike, citing “family responsibilities.” But the game went on. “I feel like The New Yorker!” shouted Lee, still smarting from Harper’s 10-4 drubbing two weeks ago, on his way back to the dugout after running home.
The final score was 9-5, in The Drift’s favor, according to The Drift. “That’s not true,” said a Harper’s player. “Print what you want I guess,” said another. “I’ll shake their hands,” said a third.
On the other side of a grassy knoll and a surprisingly long trek from the first field, The Paris Review had its own eminences in attendance, on and off the field, for its rematch against Vanity Fair. Team captain and web editor Sophie Haigney was a bit shocked by the turnout. “There’s that corner which is my friends and then there’s the guys who aren’t normally here who came in for this specific game, because of — well, you remember our first game,” she said, referring to Vanity Fair’s 27-1 blowout victory at the start of the season. Central Park softball regular Moses Tannenbaum and Paris Review contributor Adrienne Raphel came straight from playing for The Drift over to The Paris Review team. “This is a sort of ‘veterans day’ game,” explained Pashman. “I brought back a number of old ringer stars.” Paris Review top editor Emily Stokes stood merrily vaping on the sidelines. Why was this her first game of the season? “It’s a bit of an important one for us,” she said.
One of the most formidable teams by reputation, Vanity Fair had a somewhat underwhelming turnout. Their team jersey design had been overhauled since the Graydon Carter era to a look that seemed a little less fierce to their competition, noted Paris Review advisory editor Dan Piepenbring. “They’ve changed their uniforms from what used to be a positively villainous choice. They had these black-on-black T-shirts and it would say VF in glossy letters on the matte black shirt. They just looked like someone who was gonna kill Batman,” he said. “I think this is a nice change. It hides their true colors, which, to reiterate, are black and blacker.” Vanity Fair executive editor Matt Lynch pointed to a more practical reason for changing the uniforms. “I’ve got one of those in a closet somewhere,” he said. “I just remember them being hot.”
Hailey Gates, an actress, model, and former Paris Review captain, wore a prototype of the team jersey she’d designed with iron-on block letters. However, it lacked one element she’d initially hoped to include. “Do you want me to tell you some real hot goss?” she asked. “I was trying to get Scores, the strip club across the street from The Paris Review, to sponsor our uniforms, which actually maybe I should try again with Emily’s blessing. The first time I asked them they were very confused. They were not interested, but I feel like now I could be more persuasive.” When she shared the idea with Stokes, the editor said, “that would be so amazing.” “I’m taking that as an endorsement,” said Gates. “This is going to make it on the Approval Matrix as lowbrow-brilliant.”
Other prodigal Paris Review team members included fellow former captain Stephen Hiltner, now an editor and photojournalist on the travel desk of The New York Times, who’d started on the team when Philip Gourevitch was running the magazine and last played around 2017. He’d tried playing for The Times when they still had an active team, but, “it wasn’t really my speed.” Ariel Schulman, co-director of Catfish, Paranormal Activity 3 and 4, and this year’s Owen Wilson-starring superhero kids movie Secret Headquarters and a regular at Paris Review events, hadn’t played for the team in about five years. “I couldn’t stand to let Vanity Fair beat us again,” he said. “It’s great to see nerds take sports seriously, let’s be honest.”
The final score, agreed upon by all parties present, was 5-2 in The Paris Review’s favor.
The New Yorker arrived for their game against The New York Review of Books armed with a new set of bases, fresh from Amazon, to replace their raggedy standbys. They were still slightly slippery and slimy and needed a little dust for increased traction. “It’s that proprietary New Jersey mud,” said New Yorker team coach and associate editor for Talk of the Town Zach Helfand. His boss, New Yorker top editor David Remnick, who has been in the news this week after the firing of New Yorker archive editor Erin Overbey (more on that in the coming days), was on hand to evaluate the coach’s performance. “I think Zach is the Joe Torre of his generation, which is a reference that will fly over everyone’s heads,” he said. “Everyone’s in high spirits because the boss man’s here,” said New Yorker team veteran Tim Rohan.
This was Remnick’s first game of the season. “I haven’t played in a long time. Last year I came to one game, but I don’t think I played for whatever dismal excuse,” he said. The team they were facing, in what Helfand said was their first matchup ever, had brought him out on the field for some friendly competition. “My former colleague at The New York Review of Books, Emily Greenhouse, is a dear friend,” he said. Had he done anything else that was social column worthy lately? Had he gone for any nice walks? Met any friendly parakeets? “I have met many parakeets,” he said but couldn’t name one. “I’m not an animal guy. Don’t tell anyone.”
Though Remnick made a respectable showing, he wasn’t part of the game’s most impressive play. “I think the highlight is the throw from centerfield and the tag out at home,” said staff writer Jonathan Blitzer, wearing a vintage New Yorker jersey. “I think we need an oral history of that play.” Fact checker Natalie Meade tagged the runner. “I tagged somebody out at home for my very first time ever in my softball career, which has lasted as long as I’ve worked at The New Yorker,” she said. Remnick hovered over. “Do you keep pumping these guys for quotes?” he asked The Fine Print. On being informed that Meade had been singled out as an MVP, he laughed and complimented her on the play. “Did you elect yourself MVP?” he asked the magazine’s former unit chair. “I would never,” she replied.
On the walk to Tap a Keg after the game, which ended 9-4 in The New Yorker’s favor, Remnick noted the disparities in New York sports coverage. “You cover this more extensively than The New York Times covers the Mets,” he said. Helfand pointed out that Rohan had been the last Mets beat writer at The Times. Remnick lingered at the bar packed with players from all six teams before quietly slipping away.
➾ 4 p.m. NBC News deputy editor for technology Ben Goggin will celebrate his birthday at the Spritzenhaus Bier Hall in Williamsburg. “Vibe is party at a beer hall,” the invite read.
➾ 7 p.m. In the season’s premier Condé v. Condé matchup, The New Yorker will take on Vanity Fair on Central Park’s North Meadow softball fields.